• Written by Alvaro de Salvo
    4 January 2016

Akvo has a really small communications and marketing team. We are four part-time people in a tiny multinational of over 70 spread around the world. Openness is a cornerstone of our business. So this demands a deliberately pared-down and participatory, organisation-wide approach to communications.

We aim to support our colleagues to tell the stories of the work we and our partners do, on the ground as it happens. We do this by helping to improve their communications skills and providing practical help, so they are confident, active and positive voices for Akvo.

In the main, this working philosophy and communications culture has been shaped by our co-founder and PR Communications Director, Mark Charmer, who left Akvo at the end of 2015. It’s an approach that has been embraced internally and has been well received by Akvo’s partners. Mark and Thomas Bjelkeman-Petterson coined the term ‘discoverable communications’ to describe it.

In order to help new people joining Akvo to understand quickly our approach to communications, and to refresh everyone’s understanding of it, we thought it would be helpful to set it out clearly in this article.

We also attempt to answer questions here like: “What does Akvo believe in?”, “How can we work together better as a team?”, and “How should we better communicate and support Akvo’s mission?”.



– The comms and marketing team –

  • Support Akvo staff: we help everyone improve how they describe Akvo and build people’s communication skills. We avoid outsourcing tasks where possible (eg video, web design).
  • Set the tone of voice: Akvo is a fundamentally optimistic organisation. We try to make it feel simple. We do this through how we describe ourselves and our products visually and verbally. We are not sentimental about poverty; we are actively doing something about it.
  • Act as a hub for central coordination: we maintain global cohesiveness while stimulating local and regional tone and content production. We respect regional diversity; it’s one of the things which makes our organisation exceptional.
  • Build the narrative: we lead Akvo’s narrative and make sure it stays fresh, and in tune with the times and the context in which our tools are being used.
  • Write focused copy: we write simple, focused copy intended to explain things in a way that resonates with an international and multilingual audience.
  • Produce marketing materials and building blocks: we design and produce content for brochures, flyers, posters, business cards, the Akvo website, videos, campaigns, and other collateral. We also facilitate and support colleagues around the world to do this locally and regionally, using the pieces of content we create and/or following our replicable patterns to build their own.
  • Organise content building blocks: we create online digital structures to keep things ordered, discoverable and at an arm’s reach for people to find the information and content that they need to produce presentations, proposals, brochure drafts, webinars, etc., when they need it. Examples include the file-naming convention, our dropbox, and our internal intranet (Akvo Peak).



– Every Akvo team member –

  • Riff on the theme: we aim for maximum formality of design with the maximum informality of planting. This means you understand Akvo’s fundamental comms and marketing architecture and then create your own content and communicate in a way that works for your setting and personality.
  • Share you views: you represent Akvo to the world every day. You talk to us and the world about what you’re experiencing, who you’re meeting, your insights.
  • Are open and transparent: Akvo defaults to open when communicating within and beyond our organisation. Almost everyone at Akvo can be found on Twitter. Our whole organisational history can be tracked through the blogs written by our staff.
  • Blog: you blog about trends, partners, insights. You’re an independent voice telling the story of Akvo on the ground, by chronicling your work and/or experiences with partners in the field. A good way to start is by reading What is a blog? and How to write an Akvo blog?
  • Share your project experiences via Akvo RSR: you post Akvo RSR updates on your projects and programmes.
  • Produce images and video: you share images and video of your work and experiences. You take pictures of training workshops, meetings, field visits, lab work, events and anything else interesting that you’re doing and put them online via Flickr or another photo sharing site. You capture short (max three minutes) videos of sights, experiences and interviews with partners and interesting people you meet in the course of your work. You edit and upload them to Akvo.tv.
  • Spread Akvo content: you actively share Akvo content with partners and others. This might be a brochure, a blog, a product page, a video, a flickr set or some interesting article in the news. You include the latest Akvo articles in your email signature.


Together we

-All of us at Akvo –

  • Drive change: Akvo was founded to improve how things are done in development aid to make it more effective, transparent and collaborative. Our mission and values are outlined in our staff handbook.
  • Are human centered: Akvo is a technology organisation that is designed around the human. Tools come and go. The importance is what we can achieve with them.
  • Keep things real and truthful: we highlight real people doing real work. We always take care to name and credit people properly. We don’t photoshop images to change their meaning or add or remove people.
  • Are simple and inclusive: we avoid jargon and acronyms. They are like a type of secret code between members of a particular group, and are often meaningless to others. Examples include: WASH, capacity building, nested institutions, enumerators, systemic reforms, PPP, Lobby and Advocacy…
  • Don’t campaign: we strive to improve systems by building better systems, not by campaigning. But we do sometimes write about things we see that could be done better.
  • Are brief and visual: we always try to use fewer words, and more imagery. An image is worth a thousand words. A video is worth a thousand images.
  • Stay modern: Akvo is a very modern organisation. We strive to adopt the best new technologies to help us improve how we work.
  • Are entrepreneurial: we go out and look for the things we need. If they are not there, we create them.  

Alvaro de Salvo is communications executive at Akvo, based in Amsterdam. You can follow him on Twitter @aj_desalvo.
Jo Pratt is communications manager at Akvo, based in UK. You can follow her on Twitter @Jo108.

Alvaro de Salvo was Comms executive, Marketing Manager, Head of Marketing and Communications, and a member of the Management team at Akvo. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or Twitter.